James Montgomery released his new self titled album, The James Montgomery Blues Band on October 7 and I had a chance to sit down and chat with him about the new album and his music. This was a fun one, James is really fun to talk with. Enjoy.
YesterdazeNews: You released your new album The James Montgomery Blues Band on October 7th, what can your fans expect from the new album?
James Montgomery: Well, you know, I’ve always wanted to do…and I hate to call it a tribute because I’m not a big fan of these tribute bands, you know. But anyway, the CD is kind of dedicated to Paul Butterfield. He was a huge influence on me and my early life, and I got to know him. I was actually putting a CD together that was dedicated to him. We’re playing mostly material from his first two records. But some of the stuff, we’ve drastically rearranged, you know. We thought that if Paul was alive and playing some of his older material, he would probably rearrange it because he was such an innovator and such an influential figure.
So anyway, we had a ball putting it together and we got Paul Nelson from the Johnny Winter Band on it and Grace Kelly, the most amazing young saxophonist in the country. She’s 23 and she’s already played with Wynton Marsalis 4 times. We’ve got Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O’Brien, director of the Conan O’Brien band, and we actually got Mark Naftalin from the original Paul Butterfield Band to play on it. So we had a great time putting it together. It’s dedicated to Paul Butterfield. So there’s a lot of great playing and a lot of reference for Paul, who I think was one of the most influential figures in American music.
You know, when Dylan went electric at Newport, he used the Paul Butterfield Band to back him up. And when the San Francisco music people saw Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop and Paul take extended solos, that’s when people like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and all the acid rock people started thinking, “Wow. Maybe we can play extended solos, too.” So all those things, Paul was responsible for, and he was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame last year by Peter Wolf. So everything kinda came together at once and the circuit that I had been working on fell into place. And then it turns out they’re doing a documentary on Paul. They got me and Maria Maldon [SP], Bonnie Raitt, and Elvin Bishop, and a bunch of people to talk about it. So we’re excited about the CD, and it’s basically Paul Butterfield 2016.
What are the plans for a tour for this album?
Yeah, we’ll definitely do something, probably a couple of winter dates, you know. Winter dates in New England, you just hope that they happen, you know. Hope it doesn’t snow 16 inches, maybe the date will still be on by the time we get there. So, yeah. And then in the spring, we’ll kinda stretch out and go into other markets in the country.
You’ve worked with a lot of great artists over your career. Are there any that stick out to you that you worked with that to this day, you’re still kind of like, “Wow,” that you worked with them?
You know, when I was in my basement playing washtub bass and harmonica to Jimmy Reed records and every harmonica I used was in the wrong key, my parents must have loved that. But, you know, I dreamt about John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Paul Butterfield, and I eventually got a chance to play with all of those people. And some of whom like James Cotton and Junior Wells became lifelong friends. As a matter of fact, James Cotton calls me son and I call him dad.
But, you know, other people that I didn’t think of when I was 14 or 15 because, especially, they weren’t in a band yet. I loved touring with the Allman Brothers. I loved playing with Gregg. They’re the greatest people in the world to hang with. I recently, spent a day with Bonnie Raitt. She’s just the most incredible person in the world. And, you know, I always had a ball playing with Steve Miller. And I spent one night with Mick Jagger where we jammed on harmonica. That was a lot of fun. So, you know, those are the ones that stick out immediately. And Huey Lewis, I loved sitting in with him. Great guy. So, you know, I’ve been lucky. I’ve played with just about everybody including the Ramones, by the way, who every single Ramones record release party in Boston was held at my apartment, and some of them were pretty dangerous, to be honest with you.
Ah the Ramones, they were a pretty big part of my life when I was at that teenage phase.
Oh, really? I love those. Like I say, I think Sire Records still owes me for those parties, by the way. I should call Seymour Stein and say, “Where’s my $200?” But I loved hanging out with the Ramones. They are great guys.
Are there any artists, because I know you collaborate with a lot of people, that you haven’t worked with yet that maybe you’re planning for your next project?
Well, you know, I used to hem and haw about that and everything, but now, I just say, “Keith,” you know. You know, I get asked that question so many times and I used to say, “Well,” you know. But now, it’s just a simple answer, Keith, you know. He’s the one guy that would be on my bucket list right now. I would love to sit down and just do one-on-one Delta blues, you know.
When you’re not making music, I know you had, at one point, a radio show. What are you doing when you’re not making music now?
Spending time in a small mental hospital where they let me stay (laughter), you know, sometimes, three days in a row. It’s unbelievable, you know. If you wanna stay another week, they keep you there. It’s unbelievable. But actually, you know, we’re getting ready to start a podcast. My radio show was “Backstage with the Blues.” I interviewed about 100 blues musicians, and almost all of the interviews are backstage so it’s very intimate. We’re getting ready to digitize that and start a podcast of that. There’s lots to set up and learn about first, though. I would like to have guests on the show to make it more interesting but I’d need to research podcasting from different locations. It’s an exciting thing to look forward to nevertheless. And other than that, you know, I’m on the road so much that when I’m home, I cook, I garden, and I write poetry. I mean, you know, I’m kind of a…like my feminine side really comes out at home, you know.
Well, the poetry probably goes hand-in-hand with your English major, right?
Yeah, except that sometimes, being an English major…an English major definitely gets in the way of writing a blues song, you know. You don’t wanna be too complicated here, you know? You don’t wanna talk about an inexorable feeling, you know, when you’re talking about the blues. But, yeah, I do write a lot when I’m home. And, like I said, our schedule is so busy that when we get home, a lot of us just wanna chill for a while. And I rarely go out anymore. I put it this way. I get paid to go out. If you pay me, I leave the house. If you don’t pay me, I’d stay home, you know.
Well, you know, home is such a great sanctuary. Writing and being a photographer keeps me out all the time. So I kind of understand what you mean saying a night you don’t have to work, you’re like, “This is fantastic being at home.”
Oh, yeah. And the other thing is that if I get a night off and I go backstage at a rock n’ roll show and I’m hanging out and then they ask me to sit in on a song, and then I start getting stage fright, which I always do, is that a night on or is that a night off? I don’t know. It sounds like work to me. I’m backstage. I’m going on, you know. But I do go to see close friends like Bonnie, you know, or Huey, you know, or I always go to see the Blues Brothers since I’ve been playing with them since Danny turned 30. And they’re another great…Dan Akroyd is another great guy to hang with. You know, if it’s a close friend, I’ll go. But if it’s just somebody, you know, that I have an opportunity to see but I’m thinking to myself that I’ll be backstage at a rock n’ roll show, sounds to me like I’m working, you know.
Yeah, that’s what I hear from everyone that I know in the music industry. That they say, you know, “I love to go to shows. But when I do, I always end up getting pulled out on stage so you’re really not off.”
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So my last question for you is for the fans. Do you have any advice or anything that you’ve ever wanted to tell your fans that you’ve never had the chance to let people know?
Well, you know, I think my fans really know how I feel because I genuinely appreciate their support so much. You know, because of them, I’m still a musician at 67 or 68, whatever I am. I’m still selling tickets, still doing well, and, you know, living my dream at least when I’m on stage. I tell people I get paid to drive to and from work and run a business just like everyone else, but the music part, I do for free. And I know that my fans know how much I appreciate them because so many of them have become lifelong friends. And I have so many close friends that I’ve met only because they’ve seen me play enough times that we’ve become close. I go to their weddings and that kind of thing. I have a couple of families that show up, I mean, the whole family, like 20 of them, you know, wearing my t-shirts and stuff like that.
So, you know, these people who don’t appreciate their fans, I’ve never got it, you know. Because without those fans, you know, you’re selling insurance or shoes, and no offense to you, shoe salesmen or insurance salesmen out there. I just meant that figuratively speaking. So I really do appreciate my fans and I know they know it. And I always spend time with them, you know, if I’m backstage and that kind of thing. So they really know how much I appreciate them.
Well, that’s great. Thank you for taking the time out with me. Looking forward to sharing our chat and getting the word out about your new album.
Oh, great. Well, no, thank you for taking the time because I need all the help I can get, so.
Oh, no. I love music and this is my mission. And this is why I got into it because I believe that, you know, music has changed so much over the years in the industry and it’s so hard for people to get the word out about new work. And I think people need to be able to have an avenue to get that out so that’s what I do.
That was my next sentence to you, by the way. That’s exactly what I was gonna say by thanking you for doing this, is exactly what you said. I was gonna say the exact same thing to you, so thank you very much.
You can pick up a copy of James’ new self titled album,The James Montgomery Blues Band most places music is sold. It has a classic Blues sound to it. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this album. If you enjoy Blues at all, you will really enjoy this new album.
James has two shows remaining in 2016, so if you happen to be in Rhode Island tonight or Massachusetts on New Years Eve check out his website to get details on his shows.